A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on Tuesday took up ten petitions challenging the presidential order which allowed abrogation of Article 370. The bench assembled around 11:30 am before a jam-packed court with the two top lawyers for the government in attendance. Attorney General for India KK Venugopal represented the Centre while Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appeared for J&K. At the very outset, a number of lawyers prayed before the bench to be impleaded as parties in the case. Most of these were the petitioners who had challenged the constitutionality of Article 35A (Saving of laws with respect to permanent residents and their rights) before the Supreme Court over half a decade ago.
Just minutes before directing the Supreme Court registry to not entertain any more petitions on the issue, Justice Ramana said, “There is no point in filing one lakh petitions like this.” There was also a request made by one of the lawyers present in the hearing to allow her “independent organization” to file a report about the conditions on the ground in Jammu and Kashmir.
“Everything is peaceful in Kashmir. You must let us file a report on it.” said the lawyer. The bench quietly ignored the request and moved on to hear what the other lawyers had to say. It was then that the Attorney General asked the Supreme Court for four weeks' time to file a counter affidavit in the case.
“We have received ten different petitions with ten different sets of facts. We need four weeks to respond to everything raised in all of these petitions” said KK Venugopal.
The Solicitor General sided with the Attorney General and made the same request on behalf of J&K.
“Can we really decide such an important issue without giving a chance to the government to reply to the petitions?” Justice Ramana asked the objecting petitioners and then allowed the Central government’s request for four weeks' time.
Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, the only judge from Srinagar on the bench, however, cautioned the government legal officers and said “not a single day more will be given, four weeks means twenty-eight days.”
The bench also opined that it was important for parties approaching the top court to stop taking the “write petition route” and file impleadment applications instead. The lead petitioner in the case – PIL enthusiast and advocate ML Sharma was pulled up by the bench for filing a half-baked petition. On his request to be heard first when the hearing began, Justice Ramana quipped “Mr. Sharma you might be the fastest-finger-first when it comes to filing PILs but that doesn’t mean we will hear you first in the case”.
The petitions are now set to come up for hearing on November 14 before the five-judge bench.